Many years ago, I read David Mitchell's singular novel Cloud Atlas. I felt changed by the experience. Wherever I walked, I felt as if I could see the phantoms of people who had walked there before, whose lives and experiences were no less vibrant and immediate and real to them in their times than mine is to me now. I could see how their choices and actions had, in ways large and small, shaped the moment in which I existed. I also felt that I could see how my choices and actions and those of the people around me were shaping the future that will be the present for those yet to come. Actions rippling out, like pebbles hitting the surface of the water. It was then that I made the banner you see above. Long retired, it now graces my blog again.
As you've probably heard by now, a film adaptation is almost upon us. When I first heard that a movie of Cloud Atlas was in the works, I was a bit incredulous. To even attempt to adapt Cloud Atlas into a feature film seemed like such a massive, almost foolhardy undertaking. But it's hard to imagine any collaboration of filmmakers being better suited to such an ambitious task than a dream-team pairing of the Wachowskis and Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer. And in recent weeks, I've been increasingly fascinated with the story of Lana Wachowski, and how her journey toward accepting herself and transitioning has been intellectually and emotionally intertwined with the Cloud Atlas undertaking, as indicated in this great New Yorker story. As a transgender woman myself, naturally I'm intrigued by Lana Wachowski as a filmmaker, and reading the New Yorker story, I found I could relate to many of the experiences she described. Her involvement in the project has also made me think about Cloud Atlas in a new way. The novel is widely acclaimed and of course you don't need to be transgender for it to resonate with you--that would be silly--but I wondered if there was something about our similar experiences that made both Lana and I be particularly taken with it.
I'm tremendously eager to see the Wachowskis' and Tom Tykwer's vision of Cloud Atlas. At the same time, my love for the novel is so great that the potential for disappointment is bigger than it is with a typical film. The novel is about so many things. About how our choices, about how the things we create and the things we destroy, shape the world. About all the different kinds of narratives we create about ourselves--in letters, journals, novels, films, and oral storytelling. About how the things we imbue with power and authority, be they religious figures, corporate mascots, or what have you, can be used for good or ill, to aid or to manipulate. And how patterns repeat, again and again, throughout human history. The film weaves all of this elegantly and beautifully into its tapestry of stories, which switches effortlessly from one voice to another to another, each one captivating and each one utterly distinct from the others.
Mitchell is magical as he shifts from one voice to another, but it's not just to dazzle the reader. It's not just a gimmick. It's essential to the story's scope and its thematic power. There's nothing subtle about the novel Cloud Atlas--it's a big, tremendously ambitious book filled with moments of intense emotion and monumental importance--but I never felt that the book was being heavy-handed about its themes. Massive though they are, they arise naturally out of the story. From what I've seen in trailers, I worry that the choice to have actors play multiple roles--having Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and others showing up in multiple story strands--will make the connections that were deliciously implicit in the novel seem clumsy and explicit. And I'm concerned that a film, even a long one, may not be able to develop the characters in any one story enough for us to connect with them.
But these concerns, if anything, only make me more eager to see the film. Even if it leaves me frustrated or disappointed, I expect that I will be fascinated by whatever choices it makes. It will give me a great deal to think about, and I'm sure that I will come away admiring the sheer ambition of the undertaking.